Peru’s environment minister tries to negotiate end of indigenous tribe’s takeover of Amazon gas facilities

A high-level negotiation commission headed by Environment Minister Antonio Brack met with representatives of Amazonian indigenous communities in San Lorenzo Thursday to negotiate terms for talks that the government hopes will end a week-long strike and occupation of Argentine-operated Pluspetrol’s natural gas facilities.

The strike continued peacefully for a sixth consecutive day Thursday as protesters continued to occupy the Pluspetrol A and B zones of the Camisea gas field Block-56. Pluspetrol was forced to shut part of one of its natural gas lots and evacuate its personnel on Monday.

“We are going with a positive spirit to achieve a fruitful agreement with the Amazonian indigenous peoples,” Brack told daily El Comercio.

“San Lorenzo is peaceful, the town is calm, the National Bank is functioning and the shops are open,” he said. “There is a climate of peace and security for dialogue.”

Brack said further negotiations would be necessary to put a definitive end to the week-long protests.

Indigenous leaders from seven Amazonian federations as well as three representatives from the Interethnic Association for the Development of Peru’s Jungle, or Aidesep, will meet with Brack for talks on Friday.

Aidesep and the indigenous peoples initiated protests Saturday to demand that Peru President Alan García revoke the controversial communal land rights decree N°1015, as well as 37 other decrees promulgated as part of the Peru-U.S. free trade agreement they say are promoting unrestricted oil exploration while violating their territorial and ancestral rights.

Though I understand the indigenous peoples’ preoccupation, and especially because of the distorted information they have, Brack argued, only the Congress can repeal a law or shelve a project.

Brack said he intends to try to explain to the indigenous leaders the necessity of the 38 legislative decrees signed into law as part of the Peru-U.S. free trade agreement, daily Correo reported.

Pluspetrol, along with other developers which include Repsol of Spain and the U.S.-based Hunt Oil, runs the Camisea Gas Project consortium, known as Block-88, one of Latin America’s key energy infrastructure projects.

But for Aidesep and other environmental groups, Peru’s $1.6 billion Camisea Gas Project is possibly the most damaging project in the Amazon Basin.  Seventy-five percent of the Camisea project extends over the Kugapakori-Nahua state natural reserve, where several indigenous tribes have chosen to live in isolation. Environmental activists say the fragile ecosystem is the last place on earth fossil fuel drilling should take place. Repeated leaks and explosions have plagued the twin pipelines that cut through a zone to transport the gas for processing on Peru’s coast.

On Tuesday CNR Radio reported that indigenous protesters belonging to over 65 different tribes and ethnic groups seized drilling platforms, a helicopter port, a Pluspetrol boat, and buildings in southern Peru and that more protesters took over the El Muyo hydroelectric power station owned by Oriental Electric Corp., and closed part of an oil duct in northern Peru.

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